I write some version of this column almost every year. But it needs writing again.
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, Easter is the highest and holiest day of our calendar.
Christmas gets more publicity, but its outsized notoriety has been bestowed by retail merchants and Hollywood scriptwriters, not by clergy or theologians.
Our biggest day is Easter, which is Christians’ July the 4th, Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one — and then some besides.
It’s the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, which is the cornerstone of all our other beliefs.
St. Paul declared nearly 2,000 years ago that “if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, your faith is worthless.”
The proposition of Easter is miraculous.
It says that if Jesus lives again, we live, too — forever. If he was raised, so will we be raised.
But the New Testament also tells us that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we who follow him are, of all people, most to be pitied for we’ve hitched our hopes on this earth and our hopes for the world to come on a fable. We’ve given up many carnal pleasures in the here and now for no good reason.
I like that my faith is defined by the idea of resurrection.
Christianity says death is never the end. Instead, it’s a new start. Death, scary as it is, opens a door to something better than what came before.
This applies to Death with a capital D, of course, the one where they stick us in a pine box and dig a hole for us. Beyond that lies eternal glory.
Yet it also applies to lots of other endings and setbacks that feel like deaths. Endings and setbacks that can, in fact, feel more dreadful than Death.
For instance, during a dark night of my own soul (to steal a phrase from St. John of the Cross), my faith itself all but expired.
If you’re a long-time reader of my columns, you remember this.
My first wife fought cancer and then died. I burned myself out as her caregiver. My mom died. My church nearly fell apart. Many of my friends left. My health took a downhill turn. My dad suffered from dementia.
But maybe the worst part was that, during those concentric losses, I couldn’t hear from God. As the old saying goes, it was as if the heavens had become brass. I’d pray and pray for help—no answers. Not so much as a faint whisper of reply.
I felt crushingly abandoned. For years on end. All the while, I was trying to stay faithful, continuing to lead my congregation, doing right as best I could discern it.
I wrestled with whether there ever had been a God. Had I been fooled for all those previous decades? Had I devoted my life to a delusion?
Even if there truly was a God, I thought, he must not care about me or mine. Because I needed him worse than I’d ever needed him before, and he’d vanished.
It was as if all the lights had gone out in the house that is my soul.
But here’s what I find today.
My faith has been resurrected. I feel spiritually alive again. I believe in God right down to my corpuscles.
It hasn’t been a sudden, blinding resurrection, like that resurrection in a burial garden 2,000 years ago. This resurrection has been incremental.
Over a period of years, the lights in the house have come back on. One room at a time.
God has used a multitude of people and circumstances to flip those light switches: the passing of time, the love of my second wife, the arrival of my grandchildren, the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
I find myself about as full of faith as I ever was as a younger man.
I pray with joy, to a God I believe hears and answers. I look forward to going to church.
Yet my faith today is, I think, more seasoned, more deeply considered, more compassionate, more precious to me.
I know what it’s like to, in a sense, lie moldering in the grave—to wish I actually were moldering in a grave somewhere.
I know as well what it’s like to reclaim a life I thought I’d lost forever.
To me, that’s part of what the Christian faith teaches us. It says that no matter how hopeless our situation, we have the promise of resurrection, whether here or in eternity.
It says light ultimately is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than a tomb. Love is stronger than loss.
In the end, Easter always triumphs
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org